Opening China: Nixon's and Kissinger's Motives

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What did Nixon and Kissinger try to achieve by ‘opening China’?

February 21, 1972 symbolised one of the greatest political strategies ever attempted by a world leader and one of the greatest political milestones of its time. On this day, American President Richard Nixon arrived in the People’s Republic of China with the main objective of improving the cold and distant relationship the United States had with this communist country. Prior to Nixon’s visit, other U.S. presidents’ attempts at reconciliation had either failed or had very minimal impact on trying to influence international policies at the time, most particularly China’s (Goh 2005, p.475). The ‘opening of China’ marked a revolution in the United States’ foreign policy. After Nixon’s weeklong visit, rapprochement was achieved and the re-establishment of amiable relations between the United States and China were attained. It signalled a major shift in foreign policies in the two countries and represented a fundamental political change in the balance of power in the world during that time: a change that no one ever anticipated (Warner 2006, pp. 763-764). Questions are often asked regarding the real motives behind the United States’ attempt to mend relations with China. What would the U.S. gain by improving relations with this communist country? What did Nixon and Kissinger try to achieve by ‘opening China’? In this research essay, I will try to analyse these questions and attempt to answer them. I, in order, however, to effectively come to a conclusion about these answers, should have at least a brief understanding about the events that led up to this major political landmark. The situation of world politics at that time was very complicated, and inter-related events and happenings are impossible to separate from the questions at hand. Therefore, a brief explanation will be given of the Cold War and the hostile relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis that led to talks of Détente, the Sino-Soviet split, and consequently how the United States used that riff between China and the Soviet Union to speed up the process of Détente and to help benefit its national interests and further cement its foreign policies. This will then lead to the main point of this research essay, which is about the aims that President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, were trying to achieve by ‘opening China’. From February 1945 to August 1991, the intensifying hostile relations between two opposing superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, dominated international relations. This world event was called the Cold War, and it involved political and economic competition, proxy wars, aid deployment to vulnerable states in order to gain alliances, and military tension. The Cold War came about due to the similar objective of these two superpowers vying for influence and political and economic dominance in the world (Greenstein 1998, p. 1-2). After World War II, the already weak alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Since tensions between these two powers were already evident before the 2nd World War and were only set aside for a short amount of time for the more important matter of working together to try and eliminate a mutual enemy, Nazi Germany, these tensions were likely to be brought back up to the surface once that war ended. The height of these tensions and conflicts can be blamed for the start of the Cold War. One side were the Soviet Union and its communist led nations, and the other side were the United States and the democratic nations it led. There was no direct arms confrontation. However, they did clash on different fronts and by all other means such as propaganda, economic war, and diplomatic haggling. They indirectly fought each other by using client states that fought for their beliefs on their behalf. One example of this is the war in Vietnam. South Vietnam was...
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